Alumni, Research

SIAT graduate Dr. Xin Tong receives postdoc at Stanford University

May 31, 2021

by Clare Slipiec

Dr. Xin Tong, who successfully defended her PhD dissertation in April, chose the School of Interactive Arts & Technology (SIAT) for both her Master’s degree and PhD degree for two reasons: the interdisciplinarity of the school; and the faculty members, mentors, and graduate students with whom she would be working.

Through her PhD research, Tong has contributed to a larger understanding of how patients and people with psychosocial disorders such as autism or depression experience and interact with technology. Her work largely centres on understanding, designing, and developing interactive systems, such as games and VR environments, to support people’s physical, psychological, and social needs.

Exploring embodied experience of flying in a virtual reality game with kinect. Tong, X., Kitson, A., Salimi, M., Fracchia, D., Gromala, D., & Riecke, B. E. (2016, March).

“I entered into this research domain primarily because of my supervisor, [SIAT professor] Dr. Diane Gromala and the projects I did in the Pain Studies Lab,” explained Tong. “Her work inspired me a lot, and I’m impressed by how much we could do as researchers to resolve real-world challenges, particularly for pain patients and vulnerable populations.”

As part of her research, Tong frequently collaborates with clinicians, caregivers, and patients to help solve patients’ health problems and reach their individual goals through a user-centred framework.

“Since health remains a permanent issue for all human beings, technology has the potential to be a treatment tool for patients,” says Tong.

Tong has been involved in numerous notable projects at SIAT. In one of these, Tong explored how an embodied virtual avatar (an avatar seen from a first-person perspective in VR) affected phantom limb pain perception.

Images from Tong's study on embodied VR games for pain management that examined the mechanism of action for virtual embodiment to reduce pain.

Tong and her colleagues used VR to enable participants in the study to see both their intact hand and the phantom one virtually, with the phantom hand mirroring the movement of the intact one. The study findings were very promising and suggest that VR sessions significantly reduce participants’ long-term phantom pain levels.

“The most meaningful part of my research is that it could make an impact in the real world by addressing challenges and empowering people,” says Tong. “Seeing my research improve patients’ quality of life is motivating.”

Tong hopes to continue to make an impact with her research at Stanford University where she has joined the Pervasive Wellbeing Technology Lab funded by an NSERC postdoctoral fellowship. Tong and researchers at the lab are working on projects that examine how the design and use of technology can be leveraged to better monitor and improve mental health and happiness.

“Winning the NSERC postdoctoral fellowship award definitely means a lot to me,” says Tong. “It’s a recognition of my prior research from the experts in the field, particularly my work that has been done in SIAT.”

Following her post-doctoral work at Stanford University’s Pervasive Wellbeing Technology Lab, Tong will join Duke Kunshan University, an international partnership of Duke University and Wuhan University, as an Assistant Professor in Computation and Design this fall.

Learn more about Tong and her research here.

Designing a Virtual Reality Game for Promoting Empathy Toward Patients with Chronic Pain: Feasibility and Usability Study. Tong X., Gromala, D., Kieai P., and Shaw C. JMIR Serious Games 2020;8(3):e17354.